Rohail Sarwar, a native of Pakistan, is on trial for the murder of Sacramento resident Junying Lu, 51, in a Woodland, California, massage parlor last August. Last Friday in Yolo County Court, Sarwar sat motionless as two Punjabi speakers took turns interpreting. The defendant did not testify but the first witness was eager to provide the back story.
Tamsila N. – full name withheld because she is a victim of sexual assault – revealed that Rohail Sarwar worked for her husband’s landscaping business and that she had been having an affair with him beginning in May of 2018. At first consensual, it soon became abusive.
“‘No’ is never an answer in Sarwar’s world,” said deputy district attorney Diane Ortiz, who asked Tamsila about her culture and religion, which the witness identified as “Islam.” In Pakistan, she said, “men dominate. The women are silenced.” If the woman should disclose, “the blame is on women.” Tamsila’s mother told her not to tell about the affair, or “they might kill you.” Tamsila had been shunned by family and, she told the court, “I’ve been told I’m just dead.”
As it happened, after the affair emerged, her family tried to take her back to Pakistan. Tamsila’s husband told her “you have no choice” and would not allow her to take along her son. As Sarwar’s attorney Ron Johnson told the court, her husband “planned to have her killed in Pakistan.”
Stylishly dressed and sans hijab, Tamsila N. never made the trip back to Pakistan. On August 20, 2018, she and Rohail Sarwar drove nearly 80 miles to Berkeley for a lunch date. Sarwar’s job was mowing lawns and such, but the Pakistani native, 27, could evidently break away with ease.
As Tamsila testified, Rohail was addicted to pornography and constantly watching it on his phone. On the way back from Berkeley, an increasingly agitated Rohail demanded that Tamsila pull over and rent a hotel room. That had been the practice with their affair but this time it was different.
In a Fairfield hotel, Rohail Sarwar pulled off Tamsila’s clothes and demanded anal sex, which Tamsila said she denied. Rohail then became violent, yelling “I will break your legs!” and “I will kill you!” When Tamsila saw Rohail the next afternoon, he was “very nervous,” and “in a hurry.” The bandage on two fingers, he explained, came from helping his wife slice up onions.
As Tamsila testified, Rohail would laugh at her and say “I can buy many women that way.” Based on the evidence, on August 21, 2018, Rohail went to the Cottonwood Massage and demanded sex from Junying Lu. This time, prosecutors are charging, instead of urinating on the bed when refused, Sarwar murdered the woman. The victim “could not escape,” as Ortiz explained, and one of Lu’s customers discovered the body in the bloody scene.
The autopsy showed 16 defensive wounds, including an incision that cut through the victim’s thumb, and the tip of a knife was found buried at the top of the skull. The fatal wounds came from injuries at her temple, the back of her left lung, the front of her right lung, and the injury across her abdomen to her navel.
In her opening statement, Diane Ortiz showed a photo of the murder weapon, a knife that bore the blood of both the victim and the defendant Rohail Sarwar. Blood on the tip of the knife matched blood on the hand, and so did the blood on a traffic pushbutton near the crime scene. Ortiz also showed photos of the defendant’s bloody clothes, and told the court he knew details of the crime scene. Surveillance video led police to Sarwar, who was held without bail.
The charges include murder, lying in wait, use of a deadly weapon, sexual battery and attempted rape, for a previous incident at the Cottonwood Massage. “Pee guy” Ronil Sarwar, who had been in the United States less than one year at the time of his arrest, has denied all charges.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty but if convicted Sarwar faces life in prison without possibility of parole. On Friday, Sarwar’s attorney Ron Johnson declined to deliver an opening statement, so the defense’s strategy remains unknown. In the 2014, Johnson’s client Daniel Marsh, a confessed double murderer, changed the plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.
After his arrest, Sarwar reportedly said, “the killer should be deported,” but on Friday nothing emerged about Sarwar’s immigration status. It remains unclear whether he arrived through chain migration or the visa lottery, as with Uzbek Muslim Sayfullo Saipov, who in 2017 killed eight people in New York by running them down with a rented truck.
Meanwhile, on Friday deputy district attorney Diane Ortiz also asked Tamsila N. about “domestic violence in your culture.”
“Keep silent,” the witness told the court. “No voice for the woman.”
The trial continues this week in Yolo County Court.